The Ewells are "poor white trash." Explain this according to what you know about the way they live and the kind of people they have appeared to be in To Kill a Mockingbird.

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You would be hard-pressed to find a better example in all of American literature who better illustrates the term "poor white trash" than Bob Ewell and his family. "The disgrace of Maycomb for three generations," the Ewells fittingly live adjacent to the town dump, which the family members pick through for odds and ends that wind up in their cluttered yard. Bob is illiterate and refuses to allow his children to attend school since one member of the family who can read (Mayella) is apparently enough for him. Bob drinks up his unemployment check while the children go hungry. The kids are filthy and rarely bathe. Bob hunts out of season, stalks Tom Robinson's widow, and prowls about the neighborhood at night. His hatred for Negroes, who live in the nearby Quarters, is obvious, and he addresses Tom in court as "that black nigger." He eventually reaches the lowest depths possible by trying to kill Jem and Scout as payback for Atticus making him look foolish at the trial. His own character has rubbed off on his son, Burris, who curses and threatens his first grade teacher. As for Mayella, she is a character who deserves some pity; but in the end, she lies about being raped by Tom--one of the few people who has ever treated her with kindness--and causes his death. The Ewells are quite different from other poor country folk like the Cunninghams, who are honest, hard-working people down on their luck. Bob has no friends to turn to when he is in trouble, and his hatred for just about everyone--white and black--portrays the quintessential example of poor white trash.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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